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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An original take on our current predicament and its historical antecedents
Who controls power in society and how is historical change driven are questions that have beset the minds of historians and sociologists since Marx and Max Weber.The fashion for " grand theories" is still alive and kicking even though its main recent products "The end of History " by Fukuyama and the " Clash of civilizations " by Huntington are increasingly frowned...
Published 22 months ago by docread

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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat unclear, but with interesting points here and there
Priestland gets lost in his own arguments and during the book it becomes harder and harder to distinguish which regimes are ruled by the merchant, soldier or sage, or in which combination these eventually rule together. Well-written if dry English historians is your cup of tea. The prophetic part is interesting though, what will happen to the Davos man system of today?
Published 16 months ago by Anders


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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An original take on our current predicament and its historical antecedents, 13 Sep 2012
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This review is from: Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A New History of Power (Hardcover)
Who controls power in society and how is historical change driven are questions that have beset the minds of historians and sociologists since Marx and Max Weber.The fashion for " grand theories" is still alive and kicking even though its main recent products "The end of History " by Fukuyama and the " Clash of civilizations " by Huntington are increasingly frowned upon.The present author quite bravely launches into an ambitious analytical framework to examine the above questions as they specifically relate to the recent global economic crisis and generally to the major political and economic upheavals of the past century and half.A historian by trade, he produces an illuminating original narrative of the 20th century until our own time and he tackles equally many aspects of global history to emphasise his devised theoretical scheme.

Inspired by the work of the French sociologists Bourdieu and Boltanski with a nod to Michael Mann he makes use ,to be more inclusive, of a conceptual toolkit that replaces classes by castes and ideology by the concepts " doxa" and " habitus" borrowed from Bourdieu which include cultural outlook and economic interests/aspirations rooted in upbringing and education.The main historical players or castes are the merchant, the warrior, the sage technocrat and the worker.These castes with their different interests and cultural values either dominate power in certain epochs or enter in coalition with one or more castes at the expense of the others who are powerless and confined to the margins of society.In other words there is a circulation of castes(elites)with their values as they rise and fall.The reader will judge if the author's attempt to impose this rigid theoretical grid on complex historical reality works or does it become too contrived as it reduces endless diversities into manageable single undifferentiated entities.Anyhow by realising the limitations of the original scheme he introduces more subsets and a more elaborate classification of castes and their system-values with " soft" merchants and " hard" merchants, sage-technocrat and sage-creative, workers versus artisans , aristocrat warriors and worker warriors and so forth.It is debatable whether the clumsy words he coins like sagist and workerist as he describes value systems will gain wide academic acceptance.

Despite the theoretical musings his historian bias gets the better of him as he fashions a fascinating analytical narrative that sheds light on similarities for instance between the first merchant age in the 1920's leading to the implosion of the prevalent economic system with the 30's crisis and our own times when again the merchant caste domination with its dogmatic faith in unregulated markets has ushered the latest economic global catastrophe.As he pointedly remarks " Where Marxist broadsides, Soviet rockets and suicidal jihadists had failed, the merchant hubris has almost succeeded".He doesn't desist from suggesting a sort of remedy as we face our current predicament by reminding us that the most successful recent period in the developed world was the era of greatest caste balance and inclusiveness under the auspices of the sage-technocrat,the golden age of the 1950s and 1960's.His analysis has a lot to be commended, though it remains to be seen how this coordination of castes' power will materialise while the merchants(bankers)are discredited,the workers' unions are emasculated and now gravely moribund,the values of the warrior rejected after the Iraqi fiasco and the two major groups of sage-technocrats namely the journalists and the politicians ,let alone the economists, deeply mistrusted?

With an eye for details and pithy anecdotes,this original account has been a stimulating thought-provoking read and overall an illuminating contribution by a professional historian about the implications and challenges of the current global economic crisis, how it echoes the recent past and what elements will possibly shape the uncertain future.Highly recommended.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat unclear, but with interesting points here and there, 3 Mar 2013
This review is from: Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A New History of Power (Hardcover)
Priestland gets lost in his own arguments and during the book it becomes harder and harder to distinguish which regimes are ruled by the merchant, soldier or sage, or in which combination these eventually rule together. Well-written if dry English historians is your cup of tea. The prophetic part is interesting though, what will happen to the Davos man system of today?
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Caste and Power, 31 Oct 2012
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K. A. Noles - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A New History of Power (Hardcover)
This is a ambitious attempt to explain the forces at work in today's global society.

I'm not going to repeat the overview of the books content that an earlier reviewer has outlined. However the use of the term 'caste' to encapsulate the wider cultural aspects of power based groups is certainly a useful new concept for trying to understand and explain the dynamics at work in society. There are other forces at work though which are underplayed in this account, particularly the impact of technological innovation, which the 'merchant' has embraced so successfully and which may help to explain his current dominance. Are the castes driving change or just responding to it?

This is a fascinating take on the forces driving historical change. I'd certainly recommend it. I'd also suggest reading the appendix 'Caste and Power' first as it really does help to set the scene.
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Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A New History of Power
Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A New History of Power by David Priestland (Hardcover - 30 Aug 2012)
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